In a Time of Violence by Eavan Boland, Carcanet, £6.95 A Blue Monkey for the Tomb by Hubert Witheford, Faber, £5.99 WE MAY HONOUR Eavan Boland's effort to articulate a personal sense of history but this new volume scarcely confronts our violent times with individualised feeling. Personalised experience gets baldly narrated, and a prevailing, anxious brooding over age, decline of good looks and intensities the shift frbm what George Eliot called the poetry of youth, love, marriage and maternity so the prose of life doesn't find a fresh and vividly personal language for the common lot.
The same goes for politicised lrishness. The poetry avoids the present time, finding images and narratives in the past, like a poem about a famine-road discovered by love, one which joins political conflagration and an Augustan portrait of a lady, and a recall in a St Louis museum of sweated Irish seamstresses.
The present conflict and injustice and destruction is dramatised by indirection, but too abstractly. Many of the poems focus on artobjects imaging women, apostrophised urgently and grandly, but giving off an air of the past, a museum odour. The poem I most admired, 'The Art of Grief', tells the story of a mother's tears through the description of a weeping woman's statue, with an extended and specific course of feeling.
You can't quarrel with the artist's feelings, but the motif of lost and low expectations becomes monotonous, and seems ungrateful to lucky creativity. Hubert Witheford's poetry, which I didn't know and am delighted to discover, looks at the visible world with eyes peeled. His voice is dry, witty, understating, amusing and amused, though if Boland's danger is portentousness, his is cuteness.
Like Boland, but a quarter-of-our-century worse off, he hates the thought of dying but proliferates images of familiar dread, providing what Boland asks for, a poem to die in.
The best one is Now' which has a Larkin-like grim hospital fantasy followed by one of "implausible" eternity in which Marie is letting the joyful cats in/For ever.
This is poetry rich in lively dailiness cats, painted roofs, saffron, sage, coriander, fireworks, bad tennis, and radio. Plenty of art here too, made to preen its particularity before asserting metaphor or myth. There are two dazzling lovepoems, 'Breakages', which ends sadly and 'Spitting out the Cherry Blossoms' which ends on astonishing excess: I had not thought Of petals on my teeth.
'Writing' is about poetry and a bit of nature. Awe and humour blend in 'The Harrowing of Hell in St Mary's, Tillington', where pity and terror, devil and damned, are invoked as Christ raises Some lolling, hopeless fellow, though he plays a lamer part in a poem about Cana A rather insipid chap with a beard.
This poetry replays Keats with a light touch, To see the moment us its farewell: it teems with what DH Lawrence calls "momentousness". It could move people who don't like poetry.